For Cause or Not For Cause, that is the question.

Normally when I read an article about an employee being fired for ‘doing the right thing’ (trying to stop a shoplifter, leaving the store to catch a dog before it runs into the road, etc.) I empathize with the employee, but redirect the question to the rule that was violated to cause the firing. Store employees are often instructed to NOT stop someone from stealing, but instead report it to the proper authorities. There are proper procedures in place for this sort of thing.

The problem comes in when an employee does something that the public thinks is great, yet the resulting action is a termination. How can this happen? The employee from McDonald’s (see linked article) had simply asked for McDonald’s to cover the cost of the firefighters meals as they were returning from a call. Management says the employee swore at her supervisor and the next day when she reported to work, she was let go. Since she wasn’t terminated on the spot, I ask you to consider this: It was not an impulse termination. It happened the next day. Perhaps the employee did swear at the manager? Perhaps she said some really terrible things and it showed the manager that the employee reacted emotionally and without taking into consideration proper conduct at work.

My point is that if a manager or owner at McDonald’s fired her the next day, perhaps there was, in fact, reason. The incident was going to create publicity, that’s a fact. In today’s social media world a story like this can’t NOT happen and garner a frenzied response in the media. It’s sensationalistic. It’s David and Goliath (plus, it’s always fun to point out how the big guys take advantage of those already struggling, it makes for good press!).

There is a reality to this story as well. There is a company, who is going to receive backlash for sure, that still has to run, and they have rules to follow. There are code of conduct rules employees must live by. If they choose not to, they suffer the consequences. McDonald’s terminated an employees’ eight year tenure because of something that happened (that we are not privy to). It had to be something pretty serious, I would imagine, for them to fire her. Is swearing enough for them to fire her? I don’t know what is in their code of conduct. I would imagine something about treating all employees with respect….

Most big companies don’t fire people willy nilly, especially when there is potential media crap storm that will follow. I would like to think that McDonald’s did what they felt they had to do because an employee crossed the line. Even though it was a nice idea for her to want the firefighters to not have to pay for their meal, how she chose to handle it was up to her. If it resulted in her termination, she needs to own that.

I hope the lesson learned in this story is that when you are working for someone, on their dime, there are rules you need to follow. We don’t always get to do what we want, whenever we want. We, as employees, must understand that, and if we choose to cross that line, we must understand there are consequences.

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